According to a study that looked at behavior in both urban and rural areas of many countries, people are more likely to accept these small requests for help than to reject them. The results suggest that, contrary to what has been found in earlier studies, cooperative behavior is more common among people of all cultures.
Researchers from UCLA, Australia, Ecuador, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and UCLA found that people signal for help every few minutes. Research has shown across cultures, people are much more likely to grant these small requests than to refuse them. On the rare occasion that people decline, they explain why.
These human tendencies to help others when needed and to explain when such help cannot be provided transcend cultural differences, suggesting that deep down, people of all cultures have more similar cooperative behaviors than previous research has shown.
“Cultural differences such as these have created a puzzle for understanding cooperation and helping between people,” said Rossi, first author of the paper. “Are our decisions to share and help shaped by the culture we grew up with? Or are people naturally generous and giving?
To answer these questions, the authors analyzed more than 40 hours of video footage of daily life involving more than 350 people in geographically, linguistically, and culturally diverse locations—in cities in England, Italy, Poland, and Russia, and in rural villages in Ecuador, Ghana, and Laos. and Aboriginal Australia.
People helping each other & accepting requests to help more
The analysis focused on sequences in which one person signaled for help, such as directly asking or visibly struggling with a task, and the other person responded. The authors identified more than 1,000 such requests, occurring on average once every two minutes.
People complied with small requests seven times more than they refused, and six times more than they ignored them. People sometimes refused or ignored small requests, but much less often than they complied. Average rejection (10%) and ignore (11%) rates were much lower than average compliance rates (79%).
The conformity preference held across cultures and was unaffected by whether the interaction occurred between family members or nonfamily members.
People helped without explanation, but when they refused, they gave an explicit reason 74% of the time. This suggests that while people refuse to help just for a good reason, they provide help unconditionally without having to explain why they are doing it.
“Previous research on resource sharing and cooperation does not predict cross-cultural preferences for complying with small demands, suggesting instead that culture should cause prosocial behavior to vary markedly as a result of local norms, values, and adaptations to the natural environment.” , technological and socio-economic environment,” said N.J. Enfield, author of the letter.
“While cultural variation comes into play on special occasions and high-cost exchange, when we get down to the micro-level of social interaction, cultural difference mostly disappears and our species’ tendency to help when needed becomes universally visible,” he said.
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